Saturday, February 16, 2013

A New Identity

A New Identity


“So He said to him, “What is your name?” He said, “Jacob.” – Genesis 32:27

Jacob was the son of Isaac, the grandson of Abraham.  He was the twin brother to Esau, but not the first born.  When born, Jacob was holding to the heel of Esau, as if to pull Esau back and take his place.  There was deceit in Jacob from the beginning.  His name means “deceiver or “supplanter”, someone who takes the place of another.
Esau, having been born first, should have received the larger portion of an inheritance when Isaac died.  But Jacob found his brother hungry one day, and used his hunger to entice him to give up his birthrights for a bowl of stew.  To assure that Jacob received the blessing of his father when Isaac was dying, his own mother helped him deceive his father into thinking that he was Esau. 

Maybe because of the name he had been given he didn’t trust that God could make him anything else.  Maybe he felt that his walk in life was set when he was born, and there was no other blessing to be received unless he stole it, or deceived someone for it. 
God wanted to show Jacob how his deceit affected others.  He allowed him to be on the receiving end of deceitfulness.  Jacob, running from Esau after stealing the blessing of his father, went to Haran.  There he fell in love with a woman named Rachel.  He made a pact with her father Laban that he would work for her hand in marriage for seven years.  But at the end of the seven years, when he received a wife from Laban, he was tricked into taking her older sister Leah.  God used Laban to teach Jacob the effects of being deceived.  Jacob worked another seven years to receive Rachel as his wife.

When we look at the story of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel, we can see God’s punishment for Jacob’s deceit in the seven extra years he worked for her, and in the struggle between Leah and Rachel.  But we cannot overlook God’s blessing as well.  Laban chose to pay Jacob for his labor as a herdsman by selecting a certain marking of the sheep and goats that would be born each season.  But if Laban said to Jacob that the speckled ones would be his, then most of them would be speckled.  If Laban said that the ones that had white on them were to be Jacob’s, most would have white on them.  If Laban said the spotted ones would be Jacob’s wages, then most would have spots.  God assured Jacob would be blessed by marking the sheep and goats before they were born as Jacob’s wages.
Jacob had made a vow to God while running from Esau.  He came to a place called Luz. While he lay there and slept God gave him a dream.  In the dream angels were going up and down a ladder to Heaven.  God spoke to Jacob in the dream, and said “I am the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants.  Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.”(Genesis 28:13-15)  God has told Jacob that He was going to bless him.  He told him that wherever he did end up, He would see that he was brought back to that place.  He tells him, “I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.” God was intent in blessing Jacob from the beginning, and the sheep and goats were evidence of that blessing. 

Then Jacob awoke from the dream and said Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.(Genesis 28:16) and made an altar of stones there, anointed it with oil and named the place Bethel, which means “house of God”.  He found that God lived there, and that there, God told him He would give the place to his descendants.  Where God lived, there they would live.  (Do you see the foreshadowing of the Holy Spirit living in us?)
Jacob is then overwhelmed with God’s love, and makes a vow to God.  Yes, Jacob the deceiver makes a vow, one that he keeps.  In Genesis 28:20-22 he says If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on,  so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God.  And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.”

Twenty years pass before Jacob returns to his family.  He’s now got two wives, Leah and Rachel.  He has children, servants, and livestock.  He has riches from the wages earned while with Laban, his father-in-law.  God had kept up his part of the vow, and Jacob had been faithful to God. 
Yet Jacob was still known as the deceiver.  That was his name.  Now, on the way back home, where people only know him by the way he had walked in the name he had been given before, he had to face that identity again.  To try to prove his changed way, he begins sending waves of gifts to his brother Esau.  He wanted Esau to see the change in him before he faced him.

Jacob came to the Jabok River, which was a stream off the Jordan River.  He crossed over it with his wives, sons, and servants, and spent the night there in a place alone.  While there, the Angel of God came to him and they wrestled until morning.  During the wrestling, the Angel touched his hip socket, and his hip went out of joint.  In Genesis 32:26 the Angel says to Jacob “Let Me go, for the day breaks.”, but Jacob replied “I will not let You go unless You bless me!”
Jacob again sought to be blessed by God.  What happens next is the blessing. 

The Angel asks Jacob “What is your name?”  Shame must have come to Jacob as he had to admit to being named the deceiver, the supplanter, the heal-grabber, the one who puts himself in a position that’s not his.  I’m sure it was with a heavy heart that he answered with only one word, “Jacob”.  Then the Angel spoke and said “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.”(Genesis 32:28). 
He blessed him with a new identity.  But before he could bless him, he changed him.  He took his hip out of joint.  He changed Jacob’s walk.  He changed how he would be seen by man as he returned to his family limping. 

The place where they wrestled is called Penuel, which means “face of God”.  It was there that Jacob had an encounter with the Angel of God.  When you see the face of God, have that one-on-one encounter, you will be changed.  He will change your walk.  He will change the way people see you.  They will see Him living inside you, and His blessings on you.
Jacob was no longer the deceiver.  He became Israel, because he had struggled with God and man, and prevailed.  Yet, the name Israel means “God prevails”.  When you come face to face with God, when you allow Him to enter into your heart, His Spirit lives within.  God prevails!  He prevails over who you are, and makes you into who He wants you to be.  You receive a new walk.  You become an overcomer through Him.  You become blessed by Him.  His Spirit in you gives not only a new life - but also a new identity. 

Sometimes we live with such a burden from who we were in the past that we feel we can’t go forward.  We can’t walk away from the sins we’ve committed.  We can’t free ourselves of our reputation.  We can’t silence the voices in our heads that speak shame and guilt.  God says Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”(Matthew 11:28-30) Come to God, come face-to-face with Him in prayer and ask for a new identity in Him.  He will change your walk and receive you as His Child, reborn, renamed, with a new life.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”(2 Corinthians 5:17)

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